God Bless Middleclass Americansbyandtheend©
God bless middleclass Americans because no one else will.
The consequences of this recession, soon to be depression, living life as an American citizen, God, baseball, and apple pie are replaced by unemployment, homelessness, and despair. When God doesn't answer our prayers, when Americans can no longer afford to go to a baseball game, when apple pie is filled with so much sugar and preservatives and cost more than we are willing to pay for at the diner, now what? When there are no jobs that pay enough to afford rent, pay bills, have healthcare, and afford prescription drugs, when too many have lost their homes, their cars, their identity, and their dignity, well, what's left but hopelessness and despair? This is a true American story.
John and Kathy were married in August of 1970 on the very bridge where they met several years earlier and where he proposed, three months after coming home from Vietnam. Unlike the more popular wars of today, if you want to refer to them as that, albeit necessary to fight terrorism and terrorist, with military personnel proudly walking around in their fatigues, Vietnam was such an unpopular war that, as soon as John removed his uniform, he never wore it again. After fighting for and serving his country in a forward combat position, what he should have felt was pride, he felt shame.
Yet, even with all the peace demonstrations, war protests, the songs written against the war, the free concerts, the love-ins, and the university sit-ins that went on behind the scenes, back then, John and Kathy wrote one another daily. It was her letters that sustained him during his darkest hours in a jungle nearly nine thousand miles away. It was his letters that gave her the greatest hope that he'd survive and return home to her safely. If they could survive a war, if they could keep the flames of love still burning after such a long time, seemingly a lifetime apart, then their marriage stood a good chance of surviving the rest of life, too, and it did for 40 mostly happy years.
The day of their wedding was one of the best days of their lives. It was a hot day and her makeup was running, her hair was curling, and her flowers were wilting, but she didn't care. She was in love and she was the happiest she's ever been. She was marrying John, the love of her life.
Sweating and uncomfortable wearing a tuxedo on such a hot day, wishing he was drinking a beer in an air conditioned bar, while watching a ballgame, there was still no other place that he'd rather be than here getting married to his true love, Kathy. He was in love and he was the happiest he's ever been. He was marrying Kathy, the love of his life.
Nonetheless, what seemed like a good idea initially, getting married on the fourth of July and on this bridge that rose 200 feet above their city, instead of being married in an air conditioned church, unbearably hot, they couldn't wait to go inside for the reception. Who knew they were going to have such a hot summer? Still, except for the heat of the hot sun, everything was perfect. Only, John wished he hadn't been out so late drinking at his bachelor party, only a few hours before. He felt sick and dizzy and the high elevation of the bridge didn't help any. Nonetheless, they both made it through the ceremony.
Fortified by the love they had for one another and having always had a healthy sex life, married life was good for John and Kathy. They had two children, a son, Christopher and a daughter, Jennifer. After working at his job in the factory making lawnmowers and snow blowers and with her working part-time at the mall selling dresses, they saved up enough money for a down payment to buy their first home, a modest three bedroom, two bath ranch, with a one car garage, in a new development, a mile from the highway. With a new car and a new truck, and a new puppy named Bandit, because he stole things and hid them, life was as good as it was expected to be.
John and Kathy were on the road and on their way to experiencing the American dream. Surrounded by friends at barbeques and relatives at family gatherings, it seemed so easy, too easy, in fact to have the American dream and to be happy, really happy. With God in their lives, good jobs, marriage, kids, new vehicles, a new house, donating their money to their church and to charities, what was next? What more could they possibly want? College for the kids and saving for retirement, talking about baseball, catching a movie, and going out to eat at the diner afterward, the same formula their parents had followed that guaranteed them a happy marriage and a happy life, no doubt, they were happy, too.
Yet, when life is so good, too good, there's always something to ruin what was good by having something happen that's so bad, too bad. With a dark cloud sitting over their little house, there was a virtual thunderstorm brewing in their backyard that promised a torrential downpour of shit. Their life instantly went from good to horrific. Why them? What more could possibly happen to one couple who was so good?
When Christopher was 13-years-old and his sister, Jennifer, was 8-years-old, annoyed that he was always stuck watching her, he threw a ball across the street in frustration hoping she'd chase after it. She did. When she ran after the ball, running out in between two parked cars, the driver didn't see her and wouldn't have had the time to stop, anyway, even if he had seen her. Even though his parents didn't blame him for the death of his sister, even though the driver was found not a fault, Christopher never stopped blaming himself for the death of his sister. Seven years later, while away during his third year at college, with the pressure of school and his old emotional traumas crashing down upon his shoulders, he killed himself with an overdose of pain pills.
Then, unable to compete with cheap goods from Taiwan, Mexico, India, and China, Kathy lost her job, when the dress shop she worked for at the mall went out of business, after, yet, another Wal-Mart opened up next door. She accepted a minimum wage job at Burger King, until they fired her for not being as quick as the kids a third her age. Now, with so many people out of work, she couldn't even get a minimum wage job.
Even though he was a highly skilled machinist, John had to change jobs a few times to get the money that he deserved and needed to afford his adjustable rate mortgage. Consequently, hoping to latch onto a good company, before the recession hit, he never built up enough of a retirement at any one company to have a secure future. Besides, with benefits slashed and healthcare and prescription drugs skyrocketing, other than front end loaded, fee heavy 401K's, most companies no longer offered retirement benefits and if they did, they were all employee paid and not employer matched. Working here 8 years and there 10 years, with cutbacks and layoffs in a disappearing manufacturing base with jobs going to the cheap labor overseas, his last four jobs added up to another 18-years. At this rate, he'd have to work, until he was 75-years-old, just to put food on the table and pay for his prescription medication.
They had remortgaged the house to put on the addition, so many years ago, and refinanced the house again with the bank to help put Christopher through college. Colleges and universities, already fat with endowments that really didn't need our money, didn't care if you couldn't afford their inflated tuitions. If you couldn't afford to pay for college tuitions, along with their exorbitant and endless health, room, board, book, student, and parking fees, giving those who could pay preferential treatment, even if they were not citizens of the country that gave their university tax free status, they had a world of potential students from which to chose from, who could afford to pay whatever they charged. A penalty instead of a benefit, owning a home disqualified the hard hit middleclass from receiving any financial aid. Homeowners were expected to remortgage their house to pay the college tuition and related expenses for their children.
Hoping to keep the balance for emergency repairs on the house and on the vehicles, they used the remainder of that money a few years later to bury their son. After having to replace their old vehicles with new vehicles, the last time they refinanced their house was three years ago, to pay off their credit card debt. Just before the recession hit and the banks failed, fortunately, they did that, just before John was laid off again and out of work for much too long. Then, when his unemployment ended, they were out of options and out of hope. Having just paid their credit cards off, yet again, they had to run up their balances by taking on more unsecured debt to survive this long recession.
Too busy bailing out those who didn't need it, too busy helping those who didn't appreciate it, the banks, the automobile manufacturers, and the insurance companies, congress didn't care about the faceless middleclass and about people like John and Kathy. Rather than fix the economy and make sure that every man and woman, who wanted one, had a job, they started another war, instead. Suddenly concerned with deficient spending, when they weren't concerned enough before, to deny big business access to the treasury, Congress put them through holy Hell by delaying the federal unemployment extensions that they so desperately needed, just to get through their week. They've had more than their share of hardship, but there was just no coming back from these last three years without having a job and after going through all their savings. Unprecedented and a worst case scenario, it was something they never could have planned and something their parents never had to go through, after had survived a world war.
No longer able to pay their car loans, the financing arm of General Motors took their cars. It would have been nice if GM showed them the same mercy that we taxpayers showed them, when loaning them billions of dollars to bail them out of debt, but they didn't. Until the economy improved, until those who were behind on their bills were able to catch up, once they got a job and were back on their feet, they could have put a temporary moratorium on repossessing their much needed cars. Now, without a car, John was limited to finding jobs locally, within the bus route. If he had trouble finding work before, when he had a car to drive further out, his chances of finding employment now, after having to limit his job search within the bus route, were greatly diminished.
Not long after, Wells Fargo Bank, foreclosed on their house. With nowhere to go, selling all the possessions they could, even their gold, her mother's dining room set, and his beloved big screen TV, along with the lawn mower and snow blower he had helped manufacture, waiting for the sheriff to put them out, they'd be homeless soon. Unable to work the system, as so many illegal immigrants can and do, John and Kathy could have had temporary help to forestall the foreclosure of their home, had they known where to apply and where to go for help. If nothing else, it would have bought them more time to keep a roof over their heads.
Soon, at month end, without a home, they'd eligible for welfare, food stamps, and Cobra healthcare, too, but they didn't know that either. John received notification in the mail from unemployment with his last unemployment check, but with so much going on, he didn't bother reading it. They could have had government help them in negotiating credit card settlements and in finding them temporary shelter, if only they were diligently dedicated in looking for loopholes, in making the frustrating telephone calls, and in waiting online and in line for hours to speak to a human, instead of having to listen to prerecorded messages. Only, having played by the rules all of their lives, working hard at a job, paying their bills, filing their taxes, and giving to their community, this other life of having nothing, no job, no money, and no hope was new to them.
Having served two tours of duty in Vietnam, having survived Jungle Rot, hand grenades, bullets, Napalm, and Agent Orange, he thought he was done fighting wars, not realizing a worse war was the one he was fighting now to get a job to keep his home in his own country. An honorably discharged veteran, he could have received help from the Veterans' Administration but, due to budgetary cutbacks, they closed the local office and only had the main office in the city. Without having a car, the bus didn't go that far and it was impossible to call anyone after his telephone service was cancelled. Even if he could call someone, he was rerouted from prerecorded message to prerecorded message. Having worked all their years for everything they had, generous in donating their time and their money to people who needed it, when it was their turn to ask for help, they weren't savvy enough to know where to go to receive the free handouts they needed to survive.
Befitting the God bless America theme, the only fun thing they had left to do was to watch the 4th of July fireworks. It was something that even they could afford to enjoy, as the firework display and the concert that accompanied it were free. There, concealed by the darkness and hidden beneath a blanket that gave them an illusion of the privacy they needed and that sheltered them from the chill of the evening, Kathy removed her panties and John pulled down the sweatpants that he had especially worn for the occasion of their 40th anniversary. She helped him to pull down his pants and underwear and, beneath the rainbow of illuminated color, they hugged, they kissed, they talked, they laughed, and they made love. Truly it was a beautiful thing in the way they were still able to come together, after living life and experiencing the good with the bad, for so long.
The explosive sound of the fireworks silenced Kathy and John's orgasm. With everyone looking up, instead of down, there in the darkness, just a few feet away, no one noticed John and Kathy making love. When everything else in their lives had crumbled, they still had one another to keep them safe and they still had their love to keep them warm. With something else to remember doing on their beloved bridge, indeed, it was a magical night and an evening that they so desperately needed to permanently etch this romantic memory in their minds forever.
When they finished bonding, as a husband would bond with a wife, when they were finished making love, they stood and, while holding hands, watched the remainder of the fireworks from the bridge that meant so much to them. Their love, their friendship, their commitment, and their marriage, all as solid as that bridge, that bridge was where they first met. That bridge was where John proposed to Kathy. That bridge was where they were married, stood upon, and looked out from every single anniversary for forty years. That bridge was where they just made love. A symbol of them coming together as one, as they loved one another, they loved this bridge.
Surrounded by all their friends, family, and neighbors, that night was the perfect evening for fireworks. People perceived fireworks as a celebration but, after the brilliant firework display was over, after the smoke cleared, and everyone went home, Frank and Kathy viewed fireworks as sadly depressing. Just as it was in life, with a bang, then a whimper, our lives were much like fireworks.
We are all here for such a short time. We live, we laugh, we love, we cry, and then we die. It's great when life is all love, success, and happiness, but when life defeats us with death, misery, and sorrow for so long, we cannot help but remember the words of Peggy Lee, "Is that all there is?"
"Happy Anniversary," he said. "I love you, Kathy.
"Happy Anniversary, John," she said. "I love you."
Even though they lived a life filled with tragedy, they had a good marriage, but there's only so much that anyone can endure and they've already endured so much, too much. John took the hand of his wife of 40 years and kissed it. It was fittingly appropriate, on their 40th anniversary, where they took their first leap of faith, that they should take their last. Maybe by jumping off the very bridge where he proposed, where they were married, and where they made love for the last time, now their bridge over troubled water, they'd save another married couple from the same fate.
Not wanting to experience the bleak sadness of, "Is that all there is," wanting to hold onto and take the thrill of the fireworks with them from life into death, when the fireworks were nearly over, just at the part where the fireworks were their brightest and their loudest, at that final finale of colorfully explosive excitement, holding hands, they jumped and disappeared in the water below. Finally at peace, they had no more problems.